“LA GRANDE PERMISSION:
Ashbery’s Legacy to 21st Century Poetics”
In order to assess Ashbery’s place on the contemporary poetry scene, both in the US and in France, this essay reconsiders Ashbery’s poetic mode, which I take to be largely unchanging from early to late, by going back to basics—that is, outlining what I take to be the distinguishing—and contradictory--elements that make his poetry sui generis. The paradox of Ashbery’s critical reception—his success with otherwise warring camps of poets—is explored in the perspective of the one camp from which he has held aloof and which has held him aloof—that of the Ezra Pound tradition. In considering Ashbery’s influence, I then distinguish between the “Ashberian mode” of the so-called “Tribe of John”—the immediate followers—and the “grande permission,” he himself speaks of that makes it possible for a much wider—and surprising-- group of poets to have profited from his example.
Marjorie Perloff is Sadie D. Patek Professor Emerita of Humanities at Stanford University and currently Florence Scott Professor Emerita at the University of Southern California. She teaches courses and writes on twentieth—and now twenty-first—century poetry and poetics, both Anglo-American and from a Comparatist perspective, as well as on intermedia and the visual arts. Her first three books dealt with individual poets—Yeats, Robert Lowell, and Frank O’Hara; she then published The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage (1981), a book that has gone through a number of editions, and led to her extensive exploration of avant-garde art movements in The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant-Guerre, and the Language of Rupture (1986, new edition, 1994), and subsequent books (13 in all), the most recent of which is Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy (2005). Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (1992) has been used in classrooms studying the “new” digital poetics, and 21st Century Modernism (Blackwell 2002) is a manifesto of Modernist Survival. Wittgenstein’s Ladder brought philosophy into the mix; it has recently been translated into Portuguese (Sao Paulo), Spanish (Mexico), and Slovenian and will be translated in France for 2010 publication. Perloff has recently published her cultural memoir The Vienna Paradox (2004), which has been widely discussed. The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound, co-edited with Craig Dworkin has just been published by Chicago (2009), and UNORIGINAL GENIUS: Poetry by Other Means in the Twenty-First Century, is due out from U of Chicago Press, 2010. She has been a frequent reviewer for periodicals from TLS and The Washington Post to all the major scholarly journals, and she has lectured at most major universities in the U.S. and at European, Asian, and Latin American universities and festivals. She was recently the Weidenfeld Professor of European Literature at Oxford University. Perloff has held Guggenheim, NEH, and Huntington fellowships, served on the Advisory Board of the Stanford Humanities Center, and has recently completed her year as President of the Modern Language Association. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and recently was named Honorary Foreign Professor at the Beijing Modern Languages University. She received an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Letters, from Bard College in May 2008.
Plenary Lecture 2
University of California at San Diego
“The Pleasures of Merely Circulating:
John Ashbery and the Jargon of Inauthenticity”
This essay studies John Ashbery’s work against the backdrop of the cold war era’s cultivation of authenticity as a marker of psychologically “deep” interiority as well as aesthetic integrity. Using Adorno’s critique of existentialism in The Jargon of Authenticity as a frame, the essay situates Ashbery’s cultivation of kitsch elements, cliche, and “verbal inertia” as posing a new form of queer identity in the pre-Stonewall period. By looking at a range of poetic and prose work from the period between Some Trees and Three Poems, the essay shows Ashbery offering his own critique of authenticity by embracing a generic Subject being manufactured in postwar market society, a fluid identity that circulates among positional relations rather than inhabiting any one. To this extent, Ashbery anticipates anti-foundationalist arguments of French intellectuals of the 1960s who also were proposing their own anti-humanist thesis or what Ashbery calls an “end to the ‘end’ theory.”
Michael Davidson is Distinguished Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-Century (Cambridge U Press, 1989), Ghostlier Demarcations: Modern Poetry and the Material Word (U of California Press, 1997), and Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics (U of Chicago, 2003).His most recent book is Concerto for the Left Hand: Disability and the Defamiliar Body (U of Michigan, 2008). He is the editor of The New Collected Poems of George Oppen (New Directions, 2002). He is the author of eight books of poetry, the most recent of which is The Arcades (O Books, 1998). With Lyn Hejinian, Barrett Watten, and Ron Silliman, he is the co-author of Leningrad (Mercury House Press, 1991). He has written extensively on disability issues, most recently “Hearing Things: The Scandal of Speech in Deaf Performance,” in Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities, Ed. Sharon Snyder, et al (Modern Language Association, 2002), “Phantom Limbs: Film Noir and the Disabled Body,” GLQ 9:1-2 (2003), and “Strange Blood: Hemophobia and the Unexplored Boundaries of Queer Nation,” in Beyond the Boundary: Reconstructing Cultural Identity in a Multicultural Context, Ed. Timothy Powell (Rutgers U Press, 1999). His forthcoming book, Outskirts of Form: Practicing Cultural Poetics will be published in 2011 by Wesleyan University Press.
Søren Hattesen Balle
“Cosmopolitan Erotics in John Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath”
John Ashbery’s early sixties collection of poems The Tennis Court Oath is a material outcome of the American poet’s stay in France as a Fullbright scholar and an art critic of the Paris Herald Tribune. As had many of his modernist forebears in American literature earlier on in the century, Ashbery spent some years between the late 1950s and early ‘60s in Paris as an expatriate writer, but with a difference. It appears from his many comments on the expatriate tradition among modernist American artists in Paris in the first half of the 20th century that Europe no longer provides the transnational topos for the American writer as a mythic primal scene for his or her reclaiming an ‘American home and identity’ away from home. But even more important is perhaps Ashbery’s questioning of a dichotomy typical of much critical thinking about American modernism, namely that between a so-called ‘nativist’ and a so-called ‘internationalist avant-garde’ tradition in American modernist literature. According to Ashbery, late 20th century American artists in European exile are doubly alienated, or as he puts it in his own words, “[t]hey are not expatriates, but apatrides”. What he means by that is that the American writer abroad is faced with an “inability to identify anywhere”. The implications of such a position are, of course, far-reaching insofar as it no longer makes sense to categorize the expatriate writer as part of any literary tradition whether national or international.
In this paper I shall argue that Ashbery’s characterization of the position of the postwar expatriate American literary artist as ‘apatride’ may be seen as a symptom of an emergent devolution of mainstream American literary culture. For, while the institutionalization of modernist poetics by New Criticism had tended to efface the opposition between ’avant-garde internationalism’ and ‘nativism’ in American poetry, both traditions were still to a very large degree exclusionary of the poetic voices of blacks, women and homosexuals and other minorities. Though affluence and increased urbanization of American society had led to greater cultural visibility for these groups in the immediate postwar period, their relation to mainstream American literary culture still remained relatively marginal. As I shall demonstrate in my paper, the only way in which a homosexual poet like John Ashbery was able to affirm a gay identity position was through a postmodernist poetics, which mimes, while at the same time parodies any national or international, mainstream or avant-garde poetic tradition. Thus, Ashbery may be said to emerge as a ‘funny’ kind of poetic cosmopolite.
Søren Hattesen Balle is a lecturer at the Department of Language and Culture, Aalborg University, Denmark. His research interests include metaphor in John Ashbery’s poetry, nonconformism and the New York School Poets, sexuality and artistic collaboration, and contemporary literary theory. Recent publications include ‘On Derrida’s Difficulty (of Telling Stories of His Life), or How to Appreciate Derrida as a Late Romantic’ in Sørensen, 5 Faces of Derrida (2005), ‘Titular Tilting in John Ashbery: How to Untitle a Poem’ in Elias, Untitled (2005), ‘“Crossing a Bare Common”: Emerson’s Ironic Negotiations of the Sublime’ in Elias and Birch, Transatlantic (2006), and “Slips of the Pun: Signifying Sex in the Poetry of John Ashbery” in Byron and Sneddon, The Body and the Book: Writings on Poetry and Sexuality (2008).
University of Lodz
“Pragmatist poetics in the recent poetry of John Ashbery.
(Innovation and tradition in reading John Ashbery)”
Ashbery is a poet of complex aesthetic experience, combining intense linguistic dispersion with the exploration of the self. The self, authorial or other, a much obliterated, even discarded notion, returns in the recent poetry of Ashbery. No longer projected as central subjectivity, the self becomes a labyrinthine aesthetic experience. In Ashbery the self is the poem of the self, and this turn is especially conspicuous in his recent collections. The poetry of linguistic experimentation is not merely the poetry of language, since language is much more than just it: an interface between aspects of the self understood as a larger, holistic concept. Ashbery’s late poems are intricate spaces enabling exchanges between the linguistic, the autobiographical, the self-referential.
In my paper I would hope to explore, or at least delineate, what I am assuming to be a holistic aesthetic that finds channels of transition between the shifty spheres of aesthetic sensitivity, memory, the sense of the self, the artistic experience. I would call this aesthetic Ashbery’s poetic pragmatism, where pragmatism should be understood as a non-foundational approach to aesthetics refusing to privilege any single side of the poetic experiment. The pragmatist poetics that I would like to trace in Ashbery’s poetry is a space of fruitful commerce between the linguistic, the psychological, the somatic, the artistic, and the (auto)biographical.
Kacper Bartczak received his Ph.D. from the University of _ód_, Poland, where he works currently as assistant professor, teaching American Literature and American Culture. He also lectures American Literature at the Academy of Management in Warsaw. He is the author of In Search of Communication and Community: the Poetry of John Ashbery (Peter Lang, 2006), and, recently, _wiat nie scalony (Wroc_aw: Biuro Literackie, 2009). The latter book is a collection of critical essays on Polish and American poetry and on pragmatist poetics. Apart from the critical activities, he has published three volumes of poetry in Polish (most recently in 2009). As a critic and translator of poetry, he has cooperated with such Polish magazines as Literatura na _wiecie and Tygodnik Powszechny. His essays and poems have been published in numerous magazines in Poland, the United States, and Ireland. He is currently working on a project of applying neo-pragmatist aesthetics to poetry.
Providence Christian College
“John Ashbery and Jacques Tati”
This paper identifies French filmmaker Jacques Tati’s influence on Ashbery’s early poetry, providing a new lens through which to view the young poet’s work. Although Ashbery’s style has been regarded by critics as complex, dreamlike, and verbally challenging, when read in light of the kinds of comic strategies Tati employs in his films, it becomes easier to contextualize and understand. In written correspondence and in a subsequent private interview, Ashbery explains that he was first exposed to Tati when he was living in New York in the late 1940s and continued to follow Tati when he lived in Paris a few years later. It should come as no surprise that Tati’s films delighted and inspired Ashbery. Both Tati and Ashbery work in an essentially comic mode, the philosophical and aesthetic principles of which are articulated by Henri Bergson in his seminal essay, “Laughter.”
Tati’s approach is simple and effective: to show humans (often the singular character of Monsieur Hulot) caught in an endless machine of circumstance. It is constructed of such elements as spinning turnstiles, swinging kitchen doors, choreographed waiters, and wooden sharks swimming in perfect circles. Ashbery’s poetry, similarly, shows humans (often seemingly the poet himself) caught in a machine of circumstance enacted through repeated phrase and cliché. Much like physical slapstick, Ashbery’s poetry enacts a verbal plodding forward, heedless of context, expectation (formal, tonal, or semantic), or mental obstacle. Certain poems of Ashbery’s, such as the pantoum “Hotel Lautreamont,” stand in evidence of this connection. Both Tati and Ashbery—the poetic auteur and the filmic poet—present a consummately sad, fated human experience, but one that continually reverts to a Bergsonian French comic mode and finds some redemption in laughter.
This paper traces the historical and philosophical connection between Ashbery and Tati, finding in both of them strategies described by Bergson in “Laughter.”
Dr. Aaron Belz holds a Master’s in English from New York University and a Ph.D. in American Literature from Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he received the Walter J. Ong Award for Distinguished Work in English Graduate Studies. His dissertation, titled “Something Mechanical Encrusted on the Living,” studied Modernist poetry’s debt to popular comedy, using Henri Bergson’s “Le rire” (1900) as a theoretical touchstone. Dr. Belz’s other publications include numerous poems, essays, and reviews, and his second book of poetry, “Lovely, Raspberry,” is forthcoming from Persea in April, 2010. He is currently an assistant professor of English at Providence Christian College in Ontario, California. More information is available at http://belz.net
University of California, Davis
“After Lateness: Ashbery and World-System Theory”
Though elements of this talk corresponds to various concerns cited in the call for papers, the most immediate is perhaps concerning “Innovation and Tradition” — that is to say, to the ways in which Ashbery does and doesn’t belong to his era or eras.We no longer have a need for a theory of postmodernism; its world-historical era, which is to say the autumnal phase of United States-centered global hegemony, is departing or gone. John Ashbery, the American poet whose work spans the last years of modernism and the entirety of the following period, provides a unique vantage on epochal transition itself, and the ways that poetry registers it. Indeed, this paper argues that Ashbery can be understood exactly as a poet of epochal transition —one who begins his earliest work with farewells to modernity “in a far recess of summer” in 1954; heralds the shift to the late modern with the sentence “The system had been breaking down” in 1972; and turns entirely to the tropes of lateness and transition in his recent work. This paper will consider exemplary work from the Fifties, Seventies, and the most recent Ashbery by way of specifying theory of transition within his poetic, indexed variously to the cultural, the political and the aesthetic—most notably, to the possible forms and claims possible within a scene of hegemony unraveling. Perhaps most pointedly: though the paper will not argue that Ashbery is as well an exemplary poet of this new epoch after lateness, it will meditate on what that epoch’s poetry might need to grasp to be of its moment — will, in short, use Ashbery’s poetics of transition to frame what the transition adequate to this moment might look like.
Joshua Clover is an Associate Professor of Poetry and Poetics at the University of California Davis; his publications include two books of poetry, as well as a book each on film and music from the perspective of cultural history. Current work focuses on the poetry and poetics of late capitalism, including the essays “Point de capital,” “Stock Footage,” and “Autumn of the System: Poetry and Finance Capital.”
Jennifer C. Cook
“Seeing Through the Lens of Prose:
Reconsidering Ashbery’s Reported Sightings”
“Criticism is death,” John Ashbery, quoting a favorite line from Nijinsky’s journal, once commented in an interview. And yet he, perhaps more than any other poet of the twentieth century, demonstrates a rare talent for producing the liveliest of criticism of the visual arts. Ashbery’s art criticism has often been read as significant insofar as it underscores the parallels and connections between poetry and painting, connections he is famed for drawing on throughout his career. It has also been analyzed for the way in which it both mines and mirrors his poetic work; the methodology of the art criticism, especially evident in the compendious collection Reported Sightings, bears significant parallels with Ashbery’s poetic oeuvre. Ashbery’s incredibly wide-ranging tastes in art, spanning from French realism to surrealism, dada, and, most famously, abstract expressionism (and beyond: architecture, objets d’art, and even the Japanese tea ceremony are represented in the volume), mirrors the omnivorous inclusivity of his poetic subject matter and the reception and publication of his poems, which combine high cultural and pop cultural references, and which can, paradoxically, be read as both highly canonical and experimental. And yet, I would argue, the art criticism has less frequently been read as a genre in its own right, and Ashbery too infrequently read as a talented writer of prose, a prose which, like his poetry, mixes genres, materials, and approaches to create a unique voice at once accessible and deeply erudite. This paper will focus on the prose style(s) of Reported Sightings, especially the ways in which visual art both catalyzes and shapes Ashbery’s distinctive voice outside of his poetry, and will reconsider the resulting contributions that voice has made to the art criticism and history of the twentieth century.
Jennifer Carol Cook is Assistant Professor of English at Bentley University, where she teaches writing and American literature. She is the author of Machine and Metaphor: The Ethics of Language in American Realism (Routledge 2006) and articles on Virginia Woolf, Mary Oliver, Louise Gluck, T.S. Eliot and Edgar Allan Poe. Her creative work has been selected three consecutive years for The Best Women’s Travel Writing anthology (2007, 2008, and 2009).
“Ashbery’s Three Poems and the Conceptual Moment”
The influence of John Ashbery’s Three Poems (1972) is abundantly evident in experimental poetry that came later (Shoptaw 125), and critics have taken great pains to trace the work’s antecedents in various traditions that came before, from nineteenth-century American romanticism (Bloom; Fredman) and French poetry (Murphy) to the seventeenth-century meditations of Pascal (Herd) and Traherne (Shoptaw). Between these two perspectives there is an obvious gap, that of the time present to Ashbery while he wrote Three Poems. The period of composition, 1969-1971, coincides with the final three of the “Six Years” (1966-1971) in which the art critic Lucy Lippard traces “the dematerialization of the art object.” Conceptual art, one of the umbrella terms that has come to be used for the variety of practices involved in this “dematerialization,” defines the moment in which Ashbery wrote Three Poems.
I argue that this contemporary circumstance bears a relation to Ashbery’s work that is more than coincidental. As an art critic himself, Ashbery anticipated one of the founding principles of conceptual art: “what matters is the artist’s will to discover, rather than the manual skills he may share with hundreds of other artists” (qtd in Rose 278). As a poet, Ashbery employs conceptual art practices throughout Three Poems, from the opening definition of two alternative ways of making to the closing dematerialization of performance as “the idea of the spectacle.” Perhaps most important, Ashbery shares with many conceptual artists a concern with registering the passage of time, and especially with the problem of conceiving “the razor’s-edge present which is really a no-time” (Ashbery 102). The “conceptual moment” of my title is both this undefinable present and a clearly definable moment in art history to which Three Poems belongs.
Terence Diggory is Professor of English at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. He recently published the Encyclopedia of the New York School Poets (Facts on File, 2009). With Stephen Paul Miller, he is co-editor of The Scene of My Selves: New Work on New York School Poets (National Poetry Foundation, 2001). In articles and exhibition catalogues, he has focused especially on the interaction between New York School poetry and the visual arts.
University of Melbourne
“Pastiche and the Commodity of Tone:
Reading and Writing to Ashbery’s Where Shall I Wander”
If much of Ashbery’s poetry can be described as an effect of ‘chinese whispers’ (the telling game), what value (if any) does a mimicking of this process have?
In my paper I will discuss and demonstrate the appropriation of tone and form in a series of poems I wrote in 2006 while reading John Ashbery’s Chinese Whispers (2002), focusing on two or three examples. Over a total of nineteen poems I used Ashbery’s original poems as ‘templates’ for my own poems: using his word counts and punctuation exactly. Such a practice could be described as ‘conceptual formalism’, taking note of the currency that the term conceptualism has in American post-avant criticism (see, for example, Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman’s Notes on Conceptualisms (2009)). In other words, each Ashbery poem is read as an established form to be imitated, as if it were a sonnet. The typographical forms of Chinese Whispers are not particularly distinctive, so if my poems are apparently Ashberian, this might have something to do with tone and style. To what extent are these qualities (commodities) available for import? Does pastiche gain from such ‘close writing’? What of the commercial nature of these commodities / this gain – what makes people (editors, if not readers) – buy it? (I have published most of the poems in this series in paid venues: including the Best Australian Poems anthologies in 2007 and 2008.)
Michael Farrell’s most recent book is a raiders guide (2008). Two long-term editing projects were realised in 2009: a feature for ecopoetics journal, and (with Jill Jones) Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets. Michael is currently editing an Australian tribute to John Ashbery. His PhD candidature is at the University of Melbourne; his topic involves rereading the second half of the 19th century as an era of experimentation.
University of South Carolina.
“The Sissy Arts: John Ashbery’s Wallflower Avant-Garde”
Much of the critical discussion of Ashbery’s work hinges on the assumption that his poetry operates on a principle of omission, that his chiefly work by leaving things unsaid. Such an approach tends to render the particular aesthetic features that animate his poetry as though they were symptoms of repression. This paper argues that Ashbery’s work is better understoond if we recognize the generativity of their forms of reticence and shyness. Ashbery discovers these forms, I suggest, through the art of reclusive figures such as Joseph Cornell, Joe Brainard, and Henry Darger. Identifying with homophobically charged imagery in their works—pansies, nancies, and sissies—Ashbery creates an aesthetic mobilized by shame and shyness rather than shock and provocation, and, in the process, a model of artistic agency that avoids the pitfalls of opposition and acceptance facing the avant-gardes of the 1960s. Understanding his idiosyncratic vision of an artistic vanguard offers a new perspective on the relationship between aesthetics and sexuality in Ashbery’s work, and on theories of the avant-garde more generally, showing his reticence and difficulty to be generative and transformative rather than merely the symptom of repression.
Brian Glavey teaches American literature at the University of South Carolina and is completing a book on queer aesthetics entitled The Sissy Arts: Modernism, Mimesis and Form, portions of which have appeared in American Literature and PMLA.
“Poe, Roussel, Ashbery”
In his 1966 poem “The Skaters,” John Ashbery writes:
Add gradually one ounce, by
measure, of sulphuric acid
To five or six ounces of water in an earthenware basin. Add to
it, also gradually, about three quarters of an ounce of
A rapid production of hydrogen gas will instantly take place.
From time to time, a few pieces of phosphorus the size of a pea.
A multitude of gas bubbles will be produced, which will fire
on the surface of the effervescing liquid.
The whole surface of the liquid will become luminous, and fire
balls, with jets of fire,
Will dart from the bottom, through the fluid with great
rapidity and a hissing noise.
As if to give a formula for how his own modulations work, Ashbery here experiments with the rhetoric of the how-to manual, or mode d’emploi. In doing so, he both echoes Edgar Allan Poe’s algorithm-like essay in which he explains how he composed “The Raven” step-by-step, and a version of Raymond Roussel’s procédé. My paper will consider this alternate genealogy, from Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition,” (1846) to Roussel’s Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres (1933), to the poetry of Ashbery’s middle years. Ashbery’s deep interest in Roussel, I argue, in fact extends back to Poe’s essay and Baudelaire’s translation of it as La genese d’un poeme. How does Ashbery include this lineage in poems which seem to describe compositional procedures? How can we better understand the evolving relation between the French and American literary traditions through such descriptions? In trying to answer these questions, I will look specifically at “The Skaters,” (from Rivers and Mountains, 1966); “The New Spirit” (from Three Poems, 1972); and “Description of a Masque” (from A Wave, 1984).
Paul Grimstad is assistant professor of English at Yale. He is currently working on a book entitled Experience and Experimental Writing From Emerson to the Jameses. His essays, reviews and poetry have appeared in Bookforum, Raritan, Drunken Boat, Radical Philosophy, Poetics Today, Spinning Jenny, and the Yale Review.
University of Opole (Poland)
“Difficult Idylls. John Ashbery and the Postmodern Rhetoric of Pastoral”
Like his friends Frank O’Hara and James Schuyler, John Ashbery is often approached as a poet of the urban scenes and metropolitan landscapes. This is partly true and results not so much from the subjects he chooses but rather from the rhetoric he prefers, the one which involves sudden, unexpected changes of poetic register and idiolect, as well as kaleidoscopic and labyrinthine variations within his favorite genre of the long poetic meditation. A typical Ashberian poem “reads” like a modern city – it is ever-transforming, with unexpected turns of thought and setting, and it tends to move by way of diversions, off-beaten tracks and underground passes.
However, there is much to be said about the presence in Ashbery of the pastoral convention, sometimes conspicuous (like in “Evening in the Country”), but most often latent and self-deprecating. Ashbery knows the convention very well (his favorite poets include Spenser, Marvell, Holderlin and John Clare) and uses it with an eye to its history and traditional tropes, but his favorite game is subverting and mocking some of the standard procedures involved in the pastoral rhetoric. In fact, we can speak of the poet’s postmodern revaluation and reconstruction of the mode, the one which apparently ridicules the institution of the poetic idyll but eventually saves it for the contemporary reader.
What I would like to show is how Ashbery has read traditional pastoral poetry (the influence of Wordsworth’s late poetry seems especially important), and how he has dealt with the convention in his own poems. I’m going to focus on specific poems (particularly those from Some Trees and the 1970 volume The Double Dream of Spring) and demonstrate that we can approach Ashbery as one of the poets who have managed to revive the pastoral in an ostensibly anti-pastoral world. However, this is not the same pastoral it used to be. It is self-conscious, ironic, capable of subverting its own rhetoric foundations, and sensitive to the dark side of every poetic Arcadia.
Jacek Gutorow (b. 1970) is poet, literary critic and translator. He has published five volumes of poetry, four books of critical essays and numerous translations from British and American poetry. He won the 2004 Ludwik Fryde Award granted by the International Association of Literary Critics and was nominated to three prestigious literary awards (Nike, Gdynia and Cogito) for his recent collection of poems (Inne tempo, A Different Tempo, 2008). His poems, essays and reviews were reprinted in important anthologies and translated into several languages.
Gutorow’s critical and academic interests range from British poetry to the XX-century American literature to contemporary theories and include such topics as the role and status of literary criticism in the contemporary world, interdependencies between literature and philosophy, and the reception of British and American literary studies in Poland. His critical publications include Na kresach cz_owieka. Sze__ esejów o dekonstrukcji [The Ends of Man. Six Essays on Deconstruction, 2001], Niepodleg_o__ g_osu. Szkice o poezji polskiej po 1968 roku [Independence of Voice. Notes on Polish Poetry after 1968, 2003], Urwany _lad [The Lost Track, 2007] and Luminous Traversing. Wallace Stevens and the American Sublime . He has also translated and commented upon such figures as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jacques Derrida. Currently he is Assistant Professor at the University of Opole (Poland) where he lives.
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
“Fairfield Porter and John Ashbery: Ideas of Order”
John Ashbery feels some compulsion to apologize for the lack of abstraction in Fairfield Porter’s painting in his essay for a catalog of that painter’s work. How can he place Porter in the same rank with his contemporaries, the Abstract Expressionists like Willem DeKooning and Jackson Pollock? He does this through arguing that Porter is a natural descendent of American artists of multiple media so that his paintings are “intellectual in the classic American tradition … because they have no ideas in them, that is, no ideas that can be separated from the rest. They are idea, or consciousness, or light, or whatever. Ideas surround them, but do not and cannot extrude themselves into the being of the art…. He painted his surroundings [therefore] as they looked.”
How “his surroundings looked,” however, relates to Porter’s sense of order that he derived from Ludwig Wittgenstein, who said, “Every sentence is in order as it is.” Porter believed that he could unveil this order in describing what he saw through the medium of paint. “The truest order,” he said, “is what you already find there, or that will be given if you don’t try for it.” Ashbery responds to this artistic enterprise by ending this essay with a clear paean to Wallace Stevens: “We must [be] prepared to find the order that is already there, not the one that should be but the one that is.”
Ashbery’s contemporaneous poem, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” is an overt application of this conceptual approach, an ekphrastic rendering of Parmigianino’s painting that describes it at length and in great detail, and that simply tries to lay bare the order that is there. However, I would like to argue that Ashbery continues this approach to use seemingly simple description to unpack order even as late as his collection, April Galleons. This paper will, therefore, define order as a philosophical and aesthetic term, relate it to the American tradition that Ashbery identifies above (most particularly to Wallace Stevens), and reveal its presence in such poems as “Savage Menace” and “April Galleons.”
Elisabeth Joyce is a professor in the Department of English and Theatre Arts at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Her forthcoming book is “The Small Space of a Pause”: Susan Howe’s Poetry and the Spaces Between (Bucknell University Press). Her earlier book is Cultural Critique and the Avant-Garde: Marianne Moore’s Poetry and the Visual Arts (Bucknell University Press). She also studies online Communities, particularly Wikipedia and its policy development.
University of Sussex
“‘The New Realism’ -
How Ashbery Sees Surrealist And ‘New American’ Film”
What can we make of the influence of French and ‘New American’ cinema on Ashbery’s poetry, particularly given his love for, as he put it, films like “Man Ray’s Etoile de Mer, Hans Richter’s Ghosts Before Breakfast,” and his decades-long collaborative work with filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt? I ask this question especially because analyses of Ashbery’s relationship to film are so often based around an assumption that Ashbery is mostly (if ironically) engaged with popular Hollywood cinema of the 40s and 50s. Using Ashbery’s references to screwball comedy and the Hollywood industry generally as a frame, many critics insist on a kind of Ashberian aesthetic defined by a wholly decentred conception of self and a playful, diffuse poetics that agitate strongly if hilariously against the kinds of epistemological imperatives that drove so many of the works we associate with high modernism.
By reading a small selection of Ashbery’s poetry against the background of his love of surrealist film and his participation in Rudy Burckhardt’s 1989 film Ostensibly (based on the eponymous John Ashbery poem), I will try to provide readers with a way towards educing a complex and ultimately more interesting Ashbery than that currently offered by the language-centered or American Renaissance paradigms.
Ashbery in his poetry and prose has consistently given the reader hints of a far more metaphysical, even allusively mystical set of concerns that, if taken into consideration, trouble the reception of Ashbery as postmodern poet par excellence. Ultimately, I aim to show how Ashbery has developed these concerns in part by looking towards and engaging directly with surrealist and New American film. Filmic practices like radical montage, disruptive abstraction, highly symbolic if formally fragmented narratives and the like assisted Ashbery in his complex effort to use poetry to point tentatively towards something we might call transcendence.
Daniel Kane is senior lecturer in American Literature at the University of Sussex, Brighton, England. His academic publications include “All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s,” “What is Poetry: Conversations with the American Avant-Garde,” “Don’t Ever Get Famous: Essays on New York Writing After the New York School” (editor and contributor), and “We Saw the Light: Conversations Between the New American Cinema and Poetry”. Poetry publications include the collection “Ostentation of Peacocks” and appearances in the London Review of Books, Fence, Jacket and onedit.
“Facing Pages: The Vermont Notebook”
Published in the same year as the magisterial Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, The Vermont Notebook, John Ashbery’s collaboration with artist Joe Brainard, has received relatively little attention from Ashbery’s critics. And while the book does indeed have the look and feel of what one critic calls “a playful respite” from more strenuous poetic efforts on Ashbery’s part, its very looseness of structure also leaves open certain lines of inquiry that Ashbery works to foreclose elsewhere in his writing. Chief among these is the question of the role that art, artists and the art world have played in the development of Ashbery’s aesthetic. In The Vermont Notebook, Brainard’s deadpan images of objects and scenes at once banal and enigmatic face Ashbery’s words, whose tone is equally hard to gauge. This repeated act of “facing” literalizes a central trope of Ashbery’s poetry, that of the alienated reflection, whose culminating instance is that of the distorted mirror image of the painter faced down by the poet in “Self-Portrait.” Words and pictures yearn across a gap in The Vermont Notebook, charged with the desire to discover “a medium/ in which it is possible to recognize oneself” (Ashbery, “Definition of Blue”). While Ashbery remains conscious, here as elsewhere, that this desire of one medium for another is never to be realized, its playful literalization in his collaboration with Brainard leads the poet to treat similarly problematic desires—of the consumer for the commodity, and of one man for another—with uncharacteristic directness. The sidelong glance of The Vermont Notebook thus provides a uniquely revealing view of the aesthetics, politics and erotics elsewhere implicit in Ashbery’s writing.
Ellen Levy is an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University whose interests include U.S. modernist and postwar poetry and interarts relations. She has articles in the current issues of Modernism/Modernity and Literary Imagination, and her book, Criminal Ingenuity: Moore, Cornell, Ashbery and the Struggle between the Arts, will be published by Oxford University Press in fall 2010.
V. Nicholas LoLordo
University of Nevada-Las Vegas
“‘A Job in the Monument Industry’”: Reading Late Ashbery”
For a long time now the question of difficulty has seemed essential to John Ashbery’s work. A 1968 essay in the New York Times Book Review judged him to be the “most difficult” poet in the New York School, raising “obscurantism to the level of an important artistic principle.” Phrases like “notorious difficulty” by now tend to appear in quotation marks. Difficulty no longer makes Ashbery obscure; rather, he is famous as a difficult poet. Thus a recent (2002) Associated Press interview can begin as follows: “Poet John Ashbery is doomed with the “D” word...”
Interviewed in 2007 by Jeffrey Brown for the American public television program “NewsHour,” Ashbery mused on his reputation: “I sort of went from being sort of unknown and considered remote and incomprehensible to being a sort of household word without any intervening period of warm, gracious understanding.” Ashbery became a “sort of household word”—and that word, of course, deployed famously by Gertrude Stein, is “classic”: “the creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic, there is hardly a moment in between,” Stein writes in “Composition as Explanation,” “[a]nd the characteristic quality of a classic is that it is beautiful.”
Writing in the wake of this reputation, Ashbery’s poems have grown ever slighter and more playful, as his position in the discourse of literary history--what a poem from Wakefulness calls “a job in the monument industry” (“Dear Sir or Madam”)--grows ever more fixed. This paper will explore the anti-classicism of Ashbery’s recent poetry--its frequent shapelessness, clumsiness, apparent lack of finish--arguing that this refusal of beauty can itself only be understood in relation to Ashbery’s own understanding of his reputation, and to the larger problematic of poetic difficulty since modernism.
V. Nicholas LoLordo is a scholar of modern and contemporary poetry and poetics; his book, The Double Dream of Reading, a study of the “notorious difficulty” of poetry since modernism, is forthcoming in 2011.
University of North Florida
“‘Professional Exiles Like Me’: John Ashbery’s Self-Imposed Paris and the Pursuit of Poetic Abstraction”
Of his 1962 book The Tennis Court Oath, John Ashbery explained that “I attempt to use words abstractly, as an abstract painter would use paint…. My aim is to give the meaning free play and the fullest possible range.
As with the abstract painters, my abstraction is an attempt to get a greater, more complete kind of realism.” Relatedly, Ashbery would also acknowledge, as an important early inspiration, the “abstract” music of John Cage and, specifically, a 1951 concert that he attended (with Frank O’Hara) of Cage’s Music of Changes; heard that evening were the composer’s chance-determined operations of “isolated, autonomous tone-clusters,” suggesting to Ashbery possible parallel developments in poetic composition.
In my presentation, I will discuss Ashbery’s early investigations into the capacities for abstraction that poetic language allows and, perhaps, disallows. Just how far, for instance, could the poet go in following the experiments of the painters and composers of the time? How far could language be “stretched” and strained towards its own vibrantly isolated materiality, into what Ashbery described as the Cage-like “autonomous, tone clusters”? And, if such abstraction in poetry were to be achieved, what would this “greater, more complete kind of realism” which Ashbery was seeking, look like, sound like, feel like? Real in relation to what? “Greater” in what ways?
Also examined will be the vital dimension of Ashbery’s own isolations from the very language and culture from which he was abstracting himself during his long stay in Paris from 1956 to 1965. How did this linguistic and cultural separation both fuel and facilitate something of the experiments in abstraction that were so central to much of the poetry that Ashbery was writing at this time? How did the experience of being a “professional exile,” as Ashbery references in “The Skaters,” offer a means and a method for writing in more musicated “tone-clusters,” and for uncovering the “realism” of language’s latent abstractions?
Clark Lunberry is an Associate Professor in the Dept. of English at the University of North Florida, in Jacksonville, FL (USA), where he is also a visual artist and poet. His scholarly writing, interdisciplinary in nature and ranging in focus from the poetry of William Carlos Williams to the music of Morton Feldman, have been published in such journals as Critical Inquiry, SubStance and Mosaic. For the past several years, Lunberry has been engaged in large-scale poetry installations on both water and windows. His most recent “writing on water” installations have all been part of a single on-going poem that is added to annually.
For the “John Ashbery in Paris” conference, Lunberry has been invited to install poems directly onto the windows where the conference is being held. He has indicated that, for this installation, he intends to work directly with selected fragments of Ashbery’s own poetry that have been chosen specifically for this conference and its unique setting. In a kind of (unauthorized) collaboration with the poet, the windows and the Parisian backdrop, this writing on windows offers the opportunity to write on air, the words floating over the city, while—as Ashbery notes elsewhere—“not exactly commenting on it” (but also, perhaps, not exactly not). For more information about his various installations, go to
University of Opole (Poland)
“John Ashbery’s Poetry in the Context of the Twentieth-Century Visual Arts”
The development of John Ashbery’s poetry shows a striking proximity to the development of the 20th century visual arts. From the beginning of his career, the New York poet’s main effort was to neutralize the impersonal fixity of post-Renaissance perspective. Ashbery opposed centralization and unification of vision in manners discovered earlier by Cubism and Surrealism. The first movement used reason to perpetuate the object (Ashbery mimicked it employing procedural forms, i.e. sestina, pantoum, or villanelle); the second abandoned reason and placed the object in an imaginary space (Ashbery achieved the same effect employing disjunctive techniques, with clippings of linguistic ready-mades). The result of the first method was a deceptively naïve realism, which evolved into the ever-new dimensions of strangeness. Its analogue in visual arts could be the paintings of Edward Hopper from the same period. Many of the Hopper’s late oils disregard the physical configuration of space, which leads to a sense of insecurity, negating – quite similarly to Ashbery’s poems – representational realism. The box-like contrived space of Ashbery’s pattern-poem brings to mind another visual artist – the American surrealist Joseph Cornell, whose assemblages create inscrutably meditative landscapes. The result of the second method employed by Ashbery was a dislocated verbal space, lacking any specific ambiance or a center, reminiscent of the space discovered by abstract expressionists, like Arshile Gorky or Willem de Kooning. Finally, in his mature poesies, Ashbery perfected his decentered mode of writing, combining it with tropes, which enabled immediacy of experience. His greatest discovery is what Angus Fletcher calls “the environment poem,” best approached as a habitat, which annuls the distinction between fictions of fact and fact itself, and shares the same quality in our lives as have real events. A visual analogue of the last type of space would be a space of a multi-channel installation, using a variety of media, like painting, film, text and sound. Among other artists, whose work is based on a similar rationale, we should mention David Claerbout, Carole Benzaken, Shinji Ogawa, and Doris Salcedo.
Pawel Marcinkiewicz was born in 1969 in Opole where he lives and teaches as an adjunct professor at the Opole University. The field of his study is American poetry, architecture and visual arts. His recent book of criticism, The Rhetoric of the City: Robinson Jeffers and A.R. Ammons, came out with Peter Lang in 2009. He is also a poet, a translator (he translated over 40 poems by John Ashbery), a lexicographer, and a literary critic. He was a guest poet at Ashfest, celebrating John Ashbery’s 80th birthday at New School University in New York in April 2006. His recent volume of poetry, Days, was published in 2009. His honors and awards include the Polish Cultural Foundation Award and the Czes_aw Mi_osz Award, a personal award of the Nobel Prize winning poet. Currently, he works on a book on John Ashbery’s poetry in the context of twentieth-century aesthetic movements.
Royal Holloway College, London
“‘Udder mumps’ and an other tradition:
Ashbery’s Vermont Notebook”
The self-subverting faux travelogue The Vermont Notebook, a collaboration with Joe Brainard, is an anomalous work in Ashbery’s oeuvre. A compendium of lists, playful Americana and arch prose poems, it sits in an uneasy relationship to his breakthrough book, Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, published in the same year. In conjunction with the illustrations by Joe Brainard, the texts provide a pop-art foil to the high seriousness of Ashbery’s long meditation on representation in Self-Portrait. This paper will treat the Vermont Notebook as an indication of Ashbery’s continuing affiliations with an ‘other tradition’ that resists the canonisation process initiated in the mid-70s. In this book American landscape is stripped of Romantic associations and collapsed into the banal. What emerges is, in a melancholic counter to 1960s aspirations to remake American space, is a thoroughly unenlightening environment, penetrated by corporate messages and the vernacular of tourism. The interplay between image and text provides a flip, ironic challenge to an America in which rusticity is merely the cover for a baleful postmodern anomie.
Will Montgomery is RCUK fellow in contemporary poetry and poetics at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has published articles on Susan Howe, Rae Armantrout and Barbara Guest. He has an active research interest in short form in poetry and he has also written widely on music and sound. He teaches poetry of both the modernist and contemporary periods and has recently established new courses at Royal Holloway on sound and on John Ashbery. His book on the poetry of Susan Howe will be published by Palgrave US later this year. He has co-edited with Robert Hampson a collection of essays on Frank O’Hara, which is also to be published this year.
«Du surréalisme à une poésie de l’expérience de l’expérience dans le poème long de John Ashbery»
Souvent quand on lit les poèmes longs de John Ashbery, on pense tout de suite aux poèmes ou aux textes de Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens et de Laura Riding qui y sont cités ou transformés. Ashbery les a retenus dans sa mémoire de poésie parce qu’ils sont de bons exemples de ce qu’il appelle des «poems about the experience of experience », « not about events but about ways of happening ». Cette tradition poétique d’une expérience réfléchie, introvertie et abstraite est étrangère au surréalisme français, qui lui, propose ce que Pierre Revedy nommait « un paradoxe de la personnalité ». Elle suit des relais d’événements existentiels et le choc emotionnel qui les accompagne incorporé par l’image surréaliste. Dans mon intervention, je parlerai de la véritable synthèse qui s’effectue dans l’œuvre d’Ashbery entre la tradition de la poésie américaine de l’expérience de l’expérience et celle des relais singuliers de l’image surréaliste. Pour mieux cerner mon propos, je prendrai comme exemple le poème long « A wave » que je comparerai à des extraits du poème surréaliste long, que le texte d’Ashbery a en mémoire: “L’homme approximatif” de Tzara, “l’Air de l’eau” de Breton, “La parole en archipel” de Char.
Maria Muresan is a lectrice d’angais at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (LiLa department), working in the field of comparative poetics. She holds a PhD in literature from Columbia University, and she is a former ENS fellow in philosophy. Her interests include the history of poetry within world literature, the interactions between poststructuralist French philosophy and analytic philosophy. She has completed the book manuscript “Poésie comme survie, la poésie comme jeu de langage” (forthcoming with Klincksieck) and she has published articles on Jacques Roubaud, Gertrude Stein, Susan Howe, Jean-François Lyotard, Marcel Proust, André Gide. She has taught courses at Columbia University, Reid Hall, the University of Missouri and the Ecole Normale Supérieure.
Université Paris 6
«Poétiques musicales :
temps lisse et temps strié chez John Ashbery et Elliott Carter»
A partir de l’exemple de Syringa (1978), le fruit d’une collaboration entre Elliott Carter et John Ashbery, il s’agit d’analyser les implications de la relation intersémiotique du texte et du son. La notion même de «poétique musicale», empruntée à Igor Stravinsky, est née au contact de la poésie : le compositeur russe émigré à Paris prononce sous ce titre un cycle de conférences (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) sur la chaire de poétique de Harvard durant l’année 1939-1940. C’est sous l’influence de Valéry, qui prononce sa « Première leçon du cours de poétique » en 1937, que Stravinsky tente de passer du concept traditionnel de création musicale à celui de poétique. L’exploration des tensions qui animent l’œuvre et la pensée de Stravinsky (entre néoclassicisme et sérialisme, par exemple) nous amène à penser les rapports du poète et du compositeur au temps, notamment par le prisme de sa conceptualisation chez Pierre Boulez. Car pour John Ashbery, c’est bien la relation au temps qui unit la phrase musicale ou mélodique—de mélos, fragment, comme le rappelle Stravinsky—et le poème.
Clément Oudart is currently teaching at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris 6) and the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ECLA). He received his PhD in English from the Sorbonne Nouvelle in 2009. A former Fulbright Fellow and Lurcy Visiting Scholar at SUNY Buffalo’s Poetics Program and Poetry Collection, he wrote his dissertation on «The Metamorphosis of Modernism from H.D. to Robert Duncan: Toward a Relational Poetics». He has published on Duncan and on William Carlos Williams, and is now focusing on poetics and music.
University of Pennsylvania
“Bathos and Mind-reading”
A mini-history of the term, bathos. Popean bathos as reader-generated at the expense of the naive, bathetic poet. Its current version as a praise-term. Distinguishing bathos from “the low,” vernacular, demotic. Brief mention of *Paterson*. Discussion of “Variations, Calypso and Fugue on a Theme by Ella Wheeler Wilcox” with brief comparison to O’Hara’s “Poem” (“At night, Chinamen jump / On Asia with a thump”). The new bathos transgresses tonal boundaries and unsettles poetic address in order to challenge readers to more flexible and fine-grained reception.
Bob Perelman teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published 19 books of poems, including: Iflife (N.Y: Roof Books, 2006); Playing Bodies, in collaboration with painter Francie Shaw (N. Y.: Granary Books, 2004); and Ten to One: Selected Poems (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1999). His critical books are The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History ; The Trouble With Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky. His work can be accessed on Penn Sound (http://www.writing.upenn.edu/pennsound); his website is http://writing.upenn.edu/pepc/authors/perelman/
Eugene Richie and Rosanne Wasserman
“John Ashbery’s Translations from the French:
An Introduction to Selected Translations”
John Ashbery’s engagement with translating from French spans over half a century. For publication in America and England, we are editing his Selected Translations, collecting twenty-four poets and nine prose writers, including published and unpublished translations. Ashbery has generously guided our selection and helped us find materials. Our presentation will examine Ashbery’s relationship with these and other French writers, offering insights into how he came to translate certain works.
Even before his 1955 Paris Fulbright, Ashbery translated poems by Robert Cordier and Max Jacob, and his grant project featured such writers as Jules Supervielle, Francis Ponge, and Paul Eluard. In France, as editor of the journals Locus Solus and Art and Literature, he cast a wider net. For Locus Solus, he translated Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and Rene Char, but also Marcelin Pleynet, Denis Roche, and Pierre Martory. In Art and Literature, he published pieces by Antonin Artaud, Giorgio de Chirico, and Georges Bataille.
It is not surprising to see, in Ashbery’s choices, thirteen poems by Pierre Reverdy, or poems from Jacob’s The Dice Cup. Less expected are sonnets from the 1594 Le Mespris de la vie et consolation contre la mort by Jean-Baptiste Chassignet. But not all of his translations were high art: sometimes he worked for hire, translating Jean-Jacques Mayoux’s scholarly study of Herman Melville, as well as two pulp thriller novels, by Noël Vexin and Genevieve Manceron, under the pseudonym Jonas Berry. As executive editor for ARTnews in New York, he translated French articles by Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, Raymond Masson, and Salvador Dali (including a Dali poem).
His later work focused on longer prose pieces, such as Marie-Catherine D’Aulnoy’s The White Cat, but especially on the amazing works of Raymond Roussel. Other prose writers that drew his interest were Alfred Jarry, Henri Michaux, and the composer Iannis Xenakis. He also translated poems by Pascalle Monnier and entire books of poems by Martory, Serge Fauchereau, and Frank André Jamme. His current project, Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations, will appear in 2010.
Eugene Richie and Rosanne Wasserman co-edited Pierre Martory’s The Landscapist: Selected Poems, translated by John Ashbery (New York: Sheep Meadow Press; Manchester: Carcanet, 2008). Currently, they are editing a book of Ashbery’s translations from French. Rosanne has written on Ashbery’s house, in Rain Taxi’s “Created Spaces” issue; her books of poems include The Lacemakers, No Archive on Earth, and Other Selves. Eugene edited Ashbery’s Selected Prose; his books include My Night with / Mi noche con Federico García Lorca and Scarecrow (translations of poems by Jaime Manrique), and the poetry collection Island Light. Together, they have published the poetry collections Place du Carousel and Psyche and Amor, and they run the Groundwater Press, a nonprofit poetry publisher.
“Ashbery in a Convex Mirror: Paris & Translation”
This talk will take a close look at John Ashbery through the convex mirror of Paris, examining his relationship to the city, its poets, writers and artists, and how these influences have seeped into his language and poetry. In particular Ashbery will be considered as a phenomenon of the “axis poet translator” in Paris who, a late modern-day flâneur of sorts, by his tastes and friendships and decisions of who to translate, actually shifts the balance in the French scene merely by mingling around. The action is bi-fold: French poet-translator-curators impact the American scene by their choices. The decision to invite Ashbery now late career, his Paris days closer to his youth, opens the possibility to see how the deep readings of his work through translation—translation really a hybrid of critique & creation (a convex rather than simple mirror)—reflect a (French) American poet in a Parisian mirror, who whether he makes it across the Atlantic this time or not, has blurred the boundaries pour toujours. I plan a close reading of excerpts from two translations of “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.” My thesis is that translation, far from a mere reflection, is a beautiful distortion: it reveals that Ashbery has one huge poet’s hand, and that his translator’s hand, the French one, is hidden.
Sarah Riggs is a poet, translator, and visual artist. She is the author of Waterwork (Chax Press 2007) and Chain of Miniscule Decisions in the Form of a Feeling 60 Textos (Reality Street Editions 2007). 60 Textos (Ugly Duckling Presse, for 2010), along with 28 télégrammes and 43 Post-Its were first published in France (éditions de l’Attente, translated by Françoise Valéry, 2006-9) She has also published a book of essays, Word Sightings: Poetry and Visual Media in Stevens, Bishop, and O’Hara (Routledge 2002). The installation of her drawings, Isibilités, in collaboration with sound, video and cuisine, took place at the galerie éof in autumn 2007. A member of the bilingual poetry association Double Change and director of Tamaas, an international multicultural foundation, Riggs also teaches: currently at NYU in Paris, and previously at Columbia University in Paris with Omar Berrada, with whom she co-translated Marie Borel’s Wolftrot (La Presse 2006). She worked with the French poet Isabelle Garron on the translation of Garron’s poems, Face Before Against (Litmus, 2008). She also translated Ryoko Sekiguchi’s Two Markets, Once Again (Post Apollo, 2008).
United States Military Academy at West Point
“‘The Things That Mattered’:
John Ashbery’s Childhood Collections”
“‘The Things that Mattered”: John Ashbery’s Childhood Collections’” examines the origins of Ashbery’s collecting practices. Some of his earliest finds—including an “Oriental curio” purchased cheaply at the age of fourteen—grew into collections currently displayed in his Hudson house. I argue that Ashbery’s growing awareness of collecting practices during his teen-age years—valuing esoteric knowledge, identifying unique pieces among ordinary ones, and perceiving an object’s history even in its contemporary setting—was crucial in shaping an early poetic philosophy that still informs his writing.
While Ashbery has been reticent to talk about his life, deflecting autobiographical inquiries in multiple interviews, in a 1996 interview he described his poetry as “a cabinet of curios,” and has spoken more recently about his choice of the Hudson house (purchased in 1978) and the objects in it as emerging from memories of his grandparents’ 1890s home in Rochester, New York. The collections of objects Ashbery currently keeps in his Hudson home—decorative accessories including candles, glass, pottery, and ceramics—also draw on his memories of his childhood home as well. Some pieces Ashbery has inherited from his grandparents; some pieces he has purchased to resemble ones he remembers seeing there; other pieces have their origins in Ashbery’s own collecting practices.
The first half of this paper describes the provenance of some of Ashbery’s collections currently housed in his Hudson home, and illustrates their origins in his childhood. In the final section of this paper, I trace the personal history of particular objects and explain how they resurface in his poems, where they are ostensibly stripped of context and intimacy but where they nevertheless play a crucial role as memory traces, evoking Ashbery’s intellectual and emotional attachment to things from the past. They function rather like Proust’s madeleine, even in the absence of the detailed record of that experience that Proust provides. By documenting Ashbery’s collecting practices, this paper will distinguish the related roles Ashbery plays as a writer and as a collector, in order to trace the residue Ashbery’s real objects leave in the imaginative spaces of his poetry.
Karin Roffman is an Assistant Professor of English at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Her book, From the Modernist Annex: American Women Writers in Museums and Libraries, was the winner of the University of Alabama Press’s Elizabeth Agee Manuscript Prize and will be published in May, 2010. She contributed an essay on John Ashbery and Marianne Moore to Micaela Morisette’s special online issue of Rain Taxi devoted to John Ashbery’s Created Spaces in 2008. Last summer, she received an NEH Summer Stipend to research collections at John Ashbery’s Hudson house. Other essays have appeared in MFS, Minnesota Review, Gary Totten’s Edith Wharton and Material Culture, and Thomas Augst’s Institutions of Reading.
“The Delta of Living into Everything:
The River Topos in Ashbery’s Poetry”
In recent years, critics have tended more and more often to orient their readings of John Ashbery’s work around his use of landscape images as tropes for states of consciousness. Rivers, in particular, have emerged as one of the dominant topoi of Ashbery’s landscape-centered writings, occupying a central position within his poetics, both thematically and structurally. From early works like “Into the Dusk-Charged Air” and “Clepsydra” to later masterpieces like “The System” and “Syringa,” Ashbery has used figures of flowing water to dramatize the movement of the conscious mind. Ashbery’s rivers are never as specified as Eliot’s Thames, Williams’ Passaic, or Stevens’ Swatara; rather, they are a projection of the psychic medium which the poet inhabits—ever-changing, ever-present, and of an ineffable consistency, “the element in which you live and which is you,” as he writes in “The System.”
Yet, while it has become a critical commonplace (following Ashbery’s lead) to speak of themes of “flux” in Ashbery’s work and of his meandering, riverine style, or what David Herd calls “a language equal to the flow of its contemporary environment,” no close analysis of the river topos has been completed to date. Nor has full measure been taken of Ashbery’s borrowings from major predecessors with regard to this topos, namely Wordsworth, Hölderlin, and Eliot, whose works have memorably explored and articulated the symbolic bonds between river imagery and the processes of the poetic imagination. I propose to trace Ashbery’s stylistic changes and advances across the early and middle periods of his career (roughly 1956-1975) in the context of his use of river imagery in earlier works like “Into the Dusk-Charged Air,” “Clepsydra” and “Parergon,” and culminating in his later masterpiece, Three Poems, while also demonstrating the extent to which Ashbery has absorbed and re-imagined the lessons of his poetic forebears.
Stephen Ross is a DPhil candidate at Oxford University and writing his thesis on John Ashbery and landscape. He is also a senior editor of The Oxonian Review
Nandini Ramesh Sankar
“‘The / Lamentable spectacle of the unknown’:
Historicizing difficulty in the poetry of John Ashbery”
Ashbery’s poetry has been the paradigm of difficulty in Postmodern poetry. In this paper, I would like to historicize and theorize the nature of the difficult in Postmodern poetry with special reference to the particular interventions signaled by Ashbery’s work. 18th and 19th century theorizations of the sublime and of Romantic irony, I propose, underlie Ashbery’s ekphrastic questioning of the linguistic in poetry. Of particular interest for me is the status of the expressive human subject intended by these poetic practices, and the reappearance of language as the substitute for its absconding objects. Does the linguistic turn in Ashbery constitute a critical reorganization of the scope of reference for what is human? Or is his work a nostalgic rehabilitation of the traditional modalities of humanism reappearing through the referential agency of language? The motifs of quest, bardic blindness and impossible combats, for example, provide surreptitious anchoring points for much of his work. I would like to raise these questions through a close reading of Ashbery’s 1966 long poem “The Skaters,” which appeared in the 1967 volume Rivers and Mountains, though the same issues animate all his work. The dialectical structure of the poem, I argue, mobilizes both ironic and sublime affects, making it an ideal ground for the articulation of humanistic expressivity in the context of the disappearing human subject and the compensatory proliferations of language.
Nandini Ramesh Sankar is a fifth-year graduate student in the Department of English at Cornell University, writing a dissertation titled “Difficulty, the Sublime, and Postmodern Poetry.” Her primary area of interest is twentieth-century British and American poetry; J.H. Prynne and other Cambridge poets, John Ashbery, Ed Dorn, and Language poetry are particularly relevant for her current project. Her MPhil dissertation (The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India; 2005) examined issues of reference in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Her other areas of interest include modern art, ekphrasis and continental philosophy.
Hasn’t the charisma leaked away from the café crowd, and that other
Authority, the Salon des Refusés? I have forgotten much of
That old sack of enthusiasms and snake-oil recipes, the way
You have forgotten your own childhood, since
You woke up just in time to watch the adults disappear
From the world they had bequeathed us. It seems the scenery all around
Is hilly and unfarmable. Being brilliant has been reckoned
Into a procedure by some old guy, with a motto that is
More fitness, less flab. I hanker to go back to the land.
This means ruin to the culture-watchers. But the basic
Principle of my ambition is to be one excessively distracted
Entity at the mercy of the lurid, blurred and half-perceived
Motions of the Martians at the Halloween Hop. Fake? They sure are.
An anaglyph is a red-green pattern providing a stereoscopic image.
The first and the last word or two in each line of this poem are the same as the first and the last word or two from the corresponding line of John Ashbery’s poem “Clepsydra”. A general critical or creative piece of writing was commissioned by The Modern Review for a special feature on “Clepsydra” in 2007; the choice of this form was the author’s .
John Tranter has published more than twenty collections of verse. His collection of new and selected poems,
Université de Caen - Université Paris I
«Promenades dans les galeries d’art parisiennes :
John Ashbery et l’art vivant, dans les années 1955-1965»
A l’invitation du texte de présentation, nous proposons de montrer dans notre communication l’implication de John Ashbery dans la vie des arts plastiques à Paris, et plus particulièrement d’étudier, en les confrontant, trois types de textes, de nature et de fonction distinctes, émanant de cette expérience : les préfaces qu’il a faites pour des expositions dans des galeries d’art privées, les entrées dont il se charge dans le Nouveau dictionnaire de la peinture moderne publié par Hazan en 1963, et l’essai The avant-garde de 1968.
Comment et pourquoi John Ashbery présente-t-il Warhol et Bertholo au public parisien ? Que nous apprennent ses textes de son expérience quotidienne de l’art parisien et de sa sensibilité artistique ? Nous reviendrons sur les débats intenses qui prennent place dans la capitale française à l’époque : la question de la prééminence de New York sur Paris en termes d’inventivité et de créativité est alors au cœur des débats, tant la percée du Pop art et la victoire de Robert Rauschenberg à la Biennale de Venise en 1964 ont provoqué un choc dans les consciences françaises. Un « Américain à Paris » tel que John Ashbery ne pouvait y être insensible.
Autre débat, celui tournant autour de la notion même d’art « d’avant-garde », omniprésent dans les colonnes des journaux comme dans les textes de critique d’art qu’Ashbery écrit à cette époque à Paris. Il définit progressivement sa vision de la qualité, ou de la valeur, en peinture : la confrontation entre les préfaces, textes conjoncturels, ancrés dans une actualité parisienne mi-artistique, mi-mondaine, et les essais, textes profondément réflexifs et postérieurs à ces expériences, permettra de mettre en évidence les principaux traits saillants de cette conception, somme toute très personnelle, de l’art d’avant-garde.
Julie Verlaine is a postdoctoral researcher at the University Paris I-Sorbonne (Department of History). She has taught history and art history at the University of Caen (Normandy) since 2007. For her PhD, she studied contemporary art galleries in Paris from the Liberation to the end of the 1960s (dir. Pascal Ory). Her research covers the cultural history of 20th century France, especially the production, circulation and reception of the visual arts. Focusing on the French art scene in the 1950s and 1960s, she has written on art galleries (Colette Allendy, Louis Carré), artists (Alfred Manessier, Pierre Soulages), critics (Pierre Restany, Jean-Jacques Lévêque) and collectors (Gildas Fardel, Niels Onstad).
Wayne State University
Regions of Modernity in The Double Dream of Spring”
In a series of recent “position papers” on poetics, I have argued that there is an emerging transnational “family resemblance” of avant-garde poetries that rely on the foregrounding of what I term “radical particulars.” Surrealism, the New York School, and Language poetry are three avant-garde movements that foreground “radical particularity” in their aesthetics and politics. However, there is no one-size-fits-all poetics of radical particularity that unites them:
each depends on specific regional interpretations of poetic form, within the horizon of global modernity. In this paper, I will chart John Ashbery’s thinking of the aesthetics and politics of radical particularity through the “spatial form” of his revisionist masterpiece, The Double of Dream of Spring. Early accounts of this volume see it as a return to representation and even
neoclassical aesthetics, after the citation of De Chirico’s work of the title, following the radical particularity of The Tennis Court Oath and Rivers and Mountains. Certainly its poetry invokes kinds of sustained thematization and argument, however underscored by formal devices that work to defamiliarize argument. I will argue, however, that Ashbery puts forward a sustained poetic critique of social modernity, from an intersection of Critical Theory and romantic aesthetics, that regionalizes the total and the global. What results is a strikingly prescient analysis of the disjunct spatial politics of our current global order as perceived as emerging in the period in which Ashbery writes—in key poems such as “Soonest Mended,” “Decoy,” “Definition of Blue,” “Parergon,” “The Bungalows,” and “Fragment.” I want to describe the spatial argument of these poems as, finally, a historical perception of changes in the very structure of modernity, beyond national horizons, as it emerges toward the global.
Barrett Watten is Professor of English at Wayne State University. He is author of The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics (winner of the 2003 René Wellek Prize) and numerous volumes of poetry, including Frame (1971-1990), Bad History, and Progress/Under Erasure. With Carrie Noland, he co-edited Diasporic Avant-Gardes: Experimental Poetics and Cultural Dislocation, based on the 2004 conference at UC Irvine, currently under review; and with Lyn Hejinian, he is co-editor of A Guide to Poetics Journal: Writing in the Expanded Field, 1982-98, forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press.